This Legendary Ford Plant Could Be The Inspiration For Tesla’s New Battery Factory

River Rouge
River Rouge, in its heyday. Wikimedia Commons

Tesla is going to build a massive $US5-billion lithium-ion battery factory.

The company recently formed a partnership with Panasonic to get the so-called Gigafactory up and running and closed a deal with Nevada on a site.

CEO Elon Musk has also said that other sites, in other states, for additional Gigafactories, may be in the picture.

In Tesla’s second-quarter letter to investors, it also provided this piece of attention-grabbing info: “Processed ore from mines will enter by railcar on one side and finished battery packs will exit on the other.”

Anyone who knows the history of the auto industry will recognise in that description a possible reference to Ford’s River Rouge plant, a sprawling facility that for decades symbolized the might of the U.S. auto industry and the virtues of “vertical integration” in manufacturing. This is a simplification, but for all practical purposes iron ore went in one end and finished cars rolled out the other. Everything required to build an automobile was on-site.

The gargantuan plant operated until 2004.

Tesla’s ambitions for the Gigafactory are huge. It’s been noted by industry observers that if the company succeeds in building 500,000 vehicles per year, there won’t be enough lithium-ion batteries in the world to supply its needs. So Elon Musk & Co. must build the battery capacity that the globe currently lacks.

Check out these images and stats from the River Rouge factory (they’re from an old film that’s on YouTube — it’s worth watching but, at a half an hour in length, is a bit too long to embed here).

The factory was literally located on a river — the Rouge River in Dearborn, Mich., where Ford still has its HQ.

River Rouge 2

It consisted of nearly 100 buildings.

River Rouge 3

That many structures required a lot of glass, to provide light and ventilation!

River Rouge 4

Materials were moved in and around the plant by a vast network of railroad tracks.

River Rouge 5

It goes without saying that the symbol of America’s industrial age was a major employer in Michigan.

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But in many places, those employees were dwarfed by the plant’s impressive machinery.

River Rouge 7